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Published April 26, 2009, 12:00 AM

Forum editorial: Flood tax helps city do its part

Fargo is obligated to pay a significant slice of the cost of a comprehensive flood control project. The special sales tax proposed by the mayor and a city commissioner is the best way to go.

Fargo is obligated to pay a significant slice of the cost of a comprehensive flood control project. The special sales tax proposed by the mayor and a city commissioner is the best way to go.

Mayor Dennis Walaker and Commissioner Tim Mahoney, who were the two highest-profile city officials during the 2009 Red River flood, want the half-cent tax to start June 1, 2010, and run for 20 years. The City Commission will hear the proposal Monday. The question would go to Fargo voters, who must give it 60 percent approval for passage. A June 30 vote is anticipated.

The tax would raise approximately $200 million for the city’s share of flood works, home buyouts, land purchases and diversions. Initial estimates of the cost of a major flood protection project for the city are as high as $1 billion, which would be a combination of federal, state and local dollars.

Fargo is the region’s largest urban center. It provides more goods and services to more people than any other city in North Dakota. Keeping it safe from flood damage benefits not only Fargo, but the countless people from outside the city who depend on Fargo for a job, entertainment, dining, air service, medical care, higher education, shopping and other urban amenities. When they pay a special flood sales tax, they help protect the services they access frequently. It’s not unlike a Fargo resident visiting Bismarck during the Legislature, for example, and paying that city’s sales tax.

One early objection to the sales tax is that the city doesn’t yet have a comprehensive flood protection plan. True enough. Indeed, the long-delayed southside project would be one feature of a larger integrated flood control strategy. But planning already is under way on the bigger picture, and the sooner the city secures funding, the sooner work can proceed.

Putting the special sales tax in place as quickly as possible provides the city with money it will need to leverage federal dollars. The North Dakota Legislature is on pace to approve something like an initial

$78 million for Fargo. It’s likely the city will have to go back to Bismarck in 2011 for additional state support.

A targeted local sales tax underscores Fargo’s commitment to generate funds for flood works. It’s the kind of special tax Fargo voters favor because they know where the money will go. Recent examples are sales taxes for the Fargodome and library.

With signs of record high water still all over town – clay levees, sandbags, heavy machinery, damaged homes – the people of Fargo understand the need for flood controls that are more than patchworks. They will support the tax. The City Commission should act quickly to get the question on a June ballot.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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